Our series of longform pieces about suffering in metal has explored just about every possible facet of musicians enduring pain and hardship for their music: the endless hours of practice that leave the hands calloused and cramped; the financial rigor of devoting so much time, money, and energy to art; the depths of suicidal depression some artists sink themselves into to further authenticate, and therefore better, their craft; and, as the impetus for this whole series, suffering as a consistent lyrical theme from the dawn of metal to modern day. Indeed, it’d be easy to posit with a good degree of accuracy that we’ve left no stone unturned while discussing the way metal musicians suffer for their art, and I’m very proud of where the “Endless Sacrifice” series stands right now.
One thing that struck me, though, while looking over the subject matter of all these posts, was that it only explores one side of the intrinsic relationship of art: we’ve talked extensively about the creators of art and how they suffer for their craft, but we’ve almost entirely neglected the audience. Eden opened our first post by talking about metal as a community, which inherently involves the fans, and he’s talked about how not suffering can be viewed as ‘inauthentic’ for a band – but I want to examine the art-artist-audience relationship through suffering. More specifically, I wanted to seek out artists for whom the audience’s suffering was a crucial part of their music’s dynamic, and discuss both the how and why of involving their fans in a light that could easily be viewed as negative.
It’s something I’ve covered before in brief, but never really dedicated myself to diving deep into before now. The artists I’m covering here are near and dear to my heart for their music and how it matches bad moods perfectly, but little have I stopped to examine what they do to accomplish their tasks. So, having steeped myself in these albums for a little while, I’ve put together this article about how and why each band here makes the audience’s suffering an intrinsic part of their music.
The Body & Full of Hell – One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache
One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache is a tour-de-force in audience suffering, which makes it an excellent place to start our article. This album is visceral, nasty, noisy, and, above all, fucking pissed. Even the moments of quiet have a dirty, grim sheen of anger to them; the occasional waves of bliss that overtake the rage upon which this album is built still have a grimy, terrifying undertone to them. Thundering, relentless percussion clashes with monolithic, lumbering guitars, and over both lie layers of noise and feedback that constantly pop and hiss away into nothingness.
There is an ancient Greek word, mênis, that translates most aptly to “godlike rage.” It’s the word used in The Iliad to describe the insurmountable, apoplectic fury of Achilles, an anger that exists on a level removed from mortal comprehension. This same emotional force is what seethes and writhes as the constant undercurrent to One Day, an implausibly and undeniably powerful wrath that doesn’t so much trample everything in its path as absolutely annihilate it. There’s nothing left standing in the dust when The Body and Full of Hell are finished with their rampage; the silence following album closer “The Little Death” is boundless and speaks just as loudly as the half hour preceding it.
One Day is a constant, withering assault on the audience’s senses, a protracted siege against the ears and mind of the listener. The silence at the end, though, is unimaginably cathartic; several lifetimes worth of blistering fury released upon the listener with no restraint has enabled them to coalesce afterward into a moment of pure, uninterrupted bliss. Suffering is turned against the audience for a reason that only becomes clear following the album’s finale; it’s the total moment of zen and clarity that follows One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache that makes the preceding half-hour of unadulterated, seething rage work so well in conveying its message.
Gnaw Their Tongues – Abyss of Longing Throats
Gnaw Their Tongues is much less overt in his use of audience suffering as a tool on his album Abyss of Longing Throats (as on his other albums under the same project). Here, suffering isn’t forced on the audience in the straightforward manner as the previous album examined, but used as a tool to craft the grim, terrifying atmosphere that the artist wants to convey in his music. An album that mixes strains of second-wave black metal, harsh noise, and dark ambient to create a swirling, hazy atmosphere of suspense and horror, audience suffering is approached the same way it would be in a thriller or slasher film.
Samples taken from horror films cover the usual topics of serial killers and Satanism amidst buzzsaw electronics, shrieking strings, and pummeling drums; they all build together into the score to an imaginary late-night horror film. Revelling in gore and depravity, Abyss of Longing Throats is a madman’s idea of music, all wailing abrasion and off-kilter, dissonant melodies that groan and strain into tense, violent climaxes, this album is tough to listen to because, frankly, it’s absolutely terrifying. Anybody who’s had to turn off a horror movie halfway through or put down a suspenseful novel will absolutely understand the reason it’s a challenge to get through the forty minutes that comprise this release.
Typically, we’d empathise with the protagonist of whatever plot we watch unfold, but since it’s us, listening to the soundtrack, Gnaw Their Tongues twists the rules so that the audience is the main character of this horror story. This is audience suffering at its most impressionistic: the artist thrusts listeners into a plot driven by the music, making them the protagonist of an imaginary horror movie, and lets the terror unfold around them.
Jute Gyte – Perdurance
Listening to Jute Gyte is like being yelled at in a language you only kind of know: there’s just too much going on at once to really apprehend everything, and what you can understand is just small, broken tidbits of the larger whole. The microtonal, avant-garde black metal-, noise-, and power electronics-inclusive brainchild of Missourian Adam Kalmbach, all of his albums are weird and uncomfortable, but where it finally tips into pure sensory abrasion is on his only release in 2016 (last year was the first time since 2009 he didn’t put out at least three LPs per year), Perdurance. The reason? Well, it’s his only release thus far to really dig in with all of the genres he uses and fuse them into a combination wholly its own, melding the aspects of black metal, noise, and power electronics into a singular entity that is at once both distinctly human and unmistakably mechanical.
Perdurance is suffering through discomfort and disorientation. The black metal employs microtonality to a profound degree, filtering traditional riff structures of the genre through advanced applications of new-age music theory and non-Western harmonies that supremely discomfort the listener. Motifs like the main riff of “The Harvesting of Ruins” are instantly recognizable as classically metal ideas: the chug-chug-chord-chug-chug-chord pattern is about as common as you can get, but with notes that don’t adhere to preconceived notions of harmony or even dissonance, it’s impossible to get ahold of entirely, and essentially becomes the musical version of an itch that can never be scratched to satisfaction.
Adding a whole other layer onto this is the use of electronic elements, like drum machines and synthesizers, which never seem to perfectly match up with their organic counterparts: Kalmbach himself, in the liner notes of Perdurance, says that on the first track, “At the Limit of Fertile Land,” the opening does not sync up drum beats with guitar in a very close ratio, and the “closeness of the 7:8 ratio creates a rhythmic interference… the ear expects resolution in the form of one tempo either slowing or accelerating to match the other and establish a common pulse,” but none is ever given. This constant teetering on edge creates a dynamic where the listener searches for something to ease the album’s dissonance, but is constantly frustrated by Kalmbach’s refusal to give them that leeway.
The word most properly ascribed to Perdurance is “cryptic.” This album is like a puzzle or a maze, slowly revealing layers upon layers of intricate, interlocking melodic structures and rhythmic syncopation that work in tandem for a bizarre, trancelike effect. Once the listener learns to lean into the discomfort and accept that resolution can’t be reached, the album unfolds; nonsensical cacophony becomes understood as a system of fluid, ever-shifting interactions between various elements. Perdurance introduces suffering upon the listener so that it can be overcome, sidestepped, and transformed into a deeper appreciation of the music at hand.
Of course, these are far from the only three albums that use audience suffering as an integral dynamic in how they work, but together, these three releases form a triumvirate that explains quite well just how different artists and bands use this tool: for catharsis, for emotion, and for a sense of delayed gratification, often employing multiple of these effects at once. Noise artists like Merzbow and Prurient employ this tool constantly, as do other experimental metal groups like Deathspell Omega, Krieg, or Imperial Triumphant, and bands that write more ‘normal’ music often dabble in making their audience suffer to get a specific point across. This is a relatively common tool, yet one under-examined, and I’m happy to have the chance to shed some light on the subject.